Ruby, Bread & Roses Theatre - Review

Directed by Jessica Rose Boyd and Luke Clarke, Ruby is an 'iceberg' of a play. On its surface, it is about a young woman who is troubled by an unexpected visit from her ex-boyfriend. However, there's much more beneath the surface with undercurrents of class friction, sexual politics and the effectiveness of hospice care, all justling to the fore ...

Structurally, the play is quite interesting with the first half split between the present and the events during the recession that led to the couple splitting up initially. Much of the play's humourous observations takes place here. The second, shorter 'half' of the play brings to the boil all the issues that have been percolating since the beginning.

Verity (Hannah-Jane Pawsey) and Ed (Jonathan Stephenson)  are very different people. Some of their dissimilar traits are superficial while others are more deeply-rooted. While Verity comes from a middle class background in the Home Counties, Ed's a born-and-bred working class Cockney. But that isn't really what makes them different...

Verity's a nurse who works with the terminally ill – a worthwhile vocation, but one that is emotionally taxing, compounded by the administrative bureaucracy that's at loggerheads with the caring profession. In contrast, Ed has exchanged the stress of running his own garage with being a showroom car salesman. But with a surfeit of responsibility-free time on his hands, his empathy levels are found wanting.

One of the most interesting conversations in the play is Verity's frank exchange about women's relationship with time – that men 'don't' have to think about time in the same way that society puts pressure on women regarding marriage, having children, etc. To some degree I think that's true, especially regarding a 'deadline' for having children 'naturally'. However, I don't think that men are exempt from pressures to be- and achieve certain things (in and out of relationships). Just as Ed knows a lot more than he lets on, men can be full of surprises too (or at least not conform to stereotypes).

The play is titled Ruby – Cockney rhyming slang for 'Ruby Murray'/curry, a 'culinary experience' that in Ed's opinion that is 'authentic' or not, and a metaphor for a complete life without anything taken out. For Verity, her compassionate, selfless life – first caring for her mother who had cancer, and then others who are terminally ill – has left her without the ability to 'switch off' and relax. Existing, but not necessarily 'living'. Guilt at past actions may have contributed to this too...

Ed has the life-affirming qualities that she needs, but his inability to stick around and support her when she needs it most is a major deficit on his part. He also is living 'half a life'. While the circumstances of how they met are shrouded in mystery, they both possess qualities that the other lacks – the greatest tragedy being they're unable to use them positively for each other.

Pawsey and Stephenson (who also wrote the play) keep our attention throughout, especially when their veneer of politeness is eroded away and the baggage of yesterday is given another airing. If Ed had been able to see past their own respective worries, maybe they would still be together.  Maybe...

© Michael Davis 2016

Ruby runs at the Bread and Roses Theatre until 3rd September 2016.

http://www.breadandrosestheatre.co.uk/ruby.html

 

Author's review: 
4